Snake Pass Hands On: Sssensational

Most people won’t have heard of Sumo Digital’s latest title, Snake Pass, and after my experience with the game at EGX 2016 that’s certainly a shame. This unique platformer surprised me at EGX, providing an interesting physics based approach to the collect-a-thon platforming genre.

Snake Pass immediately stood out to me within the independent games section of EGX, with colourful and charming visual appeal. The game looks crisp and incredibly cheerful , with a colourful aesthetic akin to the likes of classic platformers such as Banjo Kazooie and Super Mario Sunshine.

Sitting down at the booth I was greeted by an employee who gave me a brief introduction to the games controls; moving the snake with the analogue stick, while directing it to move forward, or to tighten with the two bumpers. The core gameplay mechanic here is the friction based movement system. In order to move forward quickly you need to slither left and right in order to generate traction and effectively move, while to climb you need to wrap yourself around objects, tightening and contorting your snake in order to grip the object you’re trying to climb.

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Although conceptually these mechanisms are relatively simple, in practice climbing these various objects requires careful articulation of the snakes movement, forcing you wrap yourself around each object appropriately, in order to ensure you don’t fall off. In the level on show falling had little consequence however, serving as a sort of training ground while I got to grips with the movement system, although the developer assured me that the game becomes more challenging in later stages. –Very few games make any effort to replicate the animations or mechanics of animalistic movement in a meaningful way, and this is a big part of Snake Pass appeal. Utilizing the natural movement of a Snake to build gameplay mechanics creates both a challenging, yet relaxing experience as you find yourself slipping into this unique mindset that comes with the movement systems strengths and limitations.

These mechanics shape how you look at the environment in a way that’s distinct to the typical jump and collect platformer, as you’re continually viewing objects and obstacles in a different way. Many environments that may be trivial to traverse for the likes of Mario or Ratchet and Clank become a challenge in Snake Pass, yet inversely the Snake like movement opens up new possibilities allowing traversal of traditionally impossible structures, while forcing the player to think differently about how those structures are navigated.

The levels in Snake Pass appear to take a relatively free form structure, offering relatively small but open environment for you to navigate. There was no explicit direction presented in the demo but three empty items in the games UI indicated what you need to collect, in addition to a myriad of smaller collectibles which the developer claimed serve a significant purpose in the full game.

Although there are no enemies in Snake Pass, figuring out how to obtain each of these collectables is the real challenge, forcing you to scour the environment and consider what your snake can and can’t do relative to the unique strengths and limitations provided by the movement system. There’s also ample opportunity to find a number of smaller, secret areas that are less obvious and reward exploration itself more so than the platforming challenges, these were neat little additions and satisfying to discover.

From a technical perspective the game ran incredibly well, with a reliable frame rate and no notable performance issues presenting during my demonstration of the game. I did encounter a glitch where the Snake’s tail somehow became stuck in the floor at one point during the demo, but this was easily resolved by moving around a bit and the developer reassured me that this was something they were working to fix before launch.

By the end of the demo I had managed to collect both the 3 relics and the 20 whisps that featured. It was a satisfying and unique platforming experience that manages to integrate interesting physics based control systems without managing to be frustrating. Quite the opposite in fact, as the vibrant and charming level design coupled with tight controls that quickly made the movement feel natural facilitated an almost relaxing collect-athon platforming experience, and made Snake Pass an absolute pleasure to play. With an upcoming release on Playstation 4, PC and XBOX ONE, we’re looking forward to Snake Pass in 2017.

Author: Jozef Kulik

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